Mike “Doc” Emrick, whose inviting style, lyrical use of language, and poised excitement in the most frenzied moments of a hockey game placed him among the most popular broadcasters in sports, announced Monday he was retiring as NBC Sports’s hockey play-by-play voice.
Emrick, 74, has been the network’s lead hockey announcer for 15 years, the pinnacle of a 47-year career calling professional hockey and 50 years overall working in sports media.
“It just seemed like it was time,” he said during a call with reporters Monday. “I guess 50 was a nice round number in my time covering the league.
“And it was also a time that in your mid 70s, you realize that you have had a very healthy, long run, except for the cancer scare. [Emrick is a prostate cancer survivor.] And you are looking outside and seeing this to be the autumn of your years and the time when, as you are healthy, that you still want to do other things.
“There is certainly still the love of hockey that I have always had. But this is the time for turning to other things. There’s no back story. There’s no other thing. This is it.”
‘“I’ve never done a perfect game out of all of those 3,700 or whatever it is. And I realized after a while that I was never going to do that. And so I had to just relax and [be myself], and myself was not a perfect individual. And so I just enjoyed the fact that I was given a free seat, a good seat. And I got to work with some of the best athletes in the world. And then twice a month, I got something in the mail. It was a good deal.”’
Mike "Doc" Emrick
Emrick started calling minor league hockey games in the early 1970s, mostly for East Coast teams, including the AHL’s Maine Mariners from 1977-80, and ascended over the following decades to call 22 Stanley Cup Finals, 45 Game 7s in the postseason, 19 Winter Classic and Stadium Series outdoor games, 14 All-Star Games, and six Olympics.
He began his career as a free-lance writer for the Beaver County Times, covering the 1970-71 Penguins. He received no pay, but received a credential and an opportunity that cracked the door for a decorated five-decade career.
“It was 50 years ago this fall, with pen and pad in hand at old Civic Arena in Pittsburgh, I got my first chance to cover the National Hockey League. Gordie Howe was a Red Wing, Bobby Hull was a Blackhawk, Bobby Orr was a Bruin,” said Emrick.
“A time like this makes me recall that we have seen a lot together. The biggest crowd ever, 105,000 at Michigan Stadium. A gold-medal game that required overtime between the two North American powers in Vancouver."
The list of accolades Emrick has accumulated in his career is staggering. In 2008, he was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame, which awarded him the Foster Hewitt Memorial Award for outstanding contributions to hockey broadcasting. Three years later, Emrick became the first broadcaster ever inducted into the US Hockey Hall of Fame, one of seven Hall of Fames into which he has been inducted.
He has won eight Sports Emmy Awards for Outstanding Sports Personality/Play-by-Play, the most by anyone in that category, including seven straight from 2014-20.
Emrick was tagged with the nickname Doc after he received his PhD in broadcast communications from Bowling Green in 1976. After his journey through the minors, he became the first NHL voice of the New Jersey Devils in 1982-83. He also called games for the Philadelphia Flyers for several years.
He is perhaps best known for his time at NBC, but he also called games for ESPN, Fox, and ABC through the years, and he even did some NFL for CBS in the early ’90s, calling the first pass of Brett Favre’s career.
Emrick’s 80-minute call with reporters sometimes took on a “This Is Your Life” element, with NHL commissioner Gary Bettman (“You have been simply magnificent at your craft”), broadcast partner Eddie Olczyk (“We’re all better for having you in our lives”), fellow NBC broadcaster Al Michaels, and Sam Flood, executive producer and president of production for NBC and NBCSN, among those calling in to pay homage.
Islanders president of hockey operations and general manager Lou Lamoriello also spoke during the call, reminiscing about meeting Emrick in 1972 during a brawl-filled game between Providence College (where Lamoriello was the coach) and Bowling Green. Lamoriello later ran the Devils during Emrick’s stints as a broadcaster.
“There are three kinds of people in the world,” said Lamoriello. “The ones you like, but might not respect. The ones you respect, but might not like. And then there is the third, and there is no one in this world that not only liked you but respected you at the highest level.”
Emrick, who in retirement will occasionally write and narrate video essays for NBC Sports’s NHL coverage, said there is not one game that sticks out among the 3,750 NHL and Olympic games he has called. But he acknowledged his approach changed over the course of his career, and he learned to stop being so hard on himself and expecting to have a flawless broadcast.
“As time passed, I became more comfortable with myself and the fact that I was flawed and there was no way I was ever going to do a perfect game,” he said, noting that as a younger broadcaster he used to slam his hand down on the table in anger when he’d misidentify a player.
“Probably the mistake was to try to do it that way. I’ve heard hockey players talk about that, that you can try to be too perfect. And then that affects your game. And I guess I realized that after a certain time.
“I’ve never done a perfect game out of all of those 3,700 or whatever it is. And I realized after a while that I was never going to do that. And so I had to just relax and [be myself], and myself was not a perfect individual.
"And so I just enjoyed the fact that I was given a free seat, a good seat. And I got to work with some of the best athletes in the world. And then twice a month, I got something in the mail. It was a good deal.”